My focus for the year is listening.
While I'd run a lot of face-to-face focus groups before the COVID pandemic, it threw a great way of listening to the forefront of market research - the online focus group. With parents, students and teachers all used to Zoom, Teams or Google Meet conversations (other tools are available), it's perhaps easier than ever to get a group of stakeholders together for listening, feedback and conversation. Good news for a tool that was only used by 6% of schools in 2021.
The best things about online focus groups?
The first is the flexibility and time-saving. Rather than having to ask stakeholders to come into a school, people can join in wherever that are - and they can be held at different times of the day (evenings work well for parents in my experience). The lack of travel time for the facilitator (I have to walk all the way to my home office) means that it's also easy to run several groups over the course of an evening or week to capture different opinions.
The second is the control you have as a facilitator. As the experience of Handforth Parish Council (the 'Jackie Weaver incident') showed, there are more controls online. I've never removed someone from an online focus group, but it's easy to see names, move from one person to the next and ensure that everyone has their say. And schools are now experienced in online safeguarding so we now know how to safely run meetings with students involved.
And the third key benefit is the integration of other tools. Depending on the platform you can host polls, share concepts and ideas and take written feedback through 'chat' functions. Stakeholders can ask to speak without disturbing others or follow up with emails or voice messages if they have other ideas after the session.
We've all experienced bad internet connections on calls, and of course there are some people who don't have any access to the Internet, but there's always the option of a telephone call or meeting to fill in any gaps. And you also have to be careful with audio feedback if more than one participant is in the same room, but that's usually easily avoided.
So, what have I found?
Well, a lot of the information I've found is confidential of course, but there are some things that are 'trending' across the board. For example, students who have spent significant time in 'bubbles' are less enthusiastic than they might have been about staying in what they see as formal education - whether that be a school Sixth Form or a traditional university course. And parents are more worried about how schools reflect the society their children are growing up in - and feel the need for schools to do much more than prepare children for exams.